September 2016

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The iPhone Dongle: Part 2

by Mat on 23 September, 2016 No comments

It’s 7 weeks later, so it’s about time I updated the rant I posted below. It turns out I was almost 100% right, and a little more wrong than I’d anticipated. Now that I’ve seen one of these things, I honestly have had my mind changed.

What? I’m not in full hate-rage mode? No. I’m not. Do I still think it was boneheaded and premature? Yes. However, having said that, I have to marvel at the engineering. It’s really an amazing adapter. Also known as “The Dongle”, it’s just so small and adequate, I understand why Apple thinks (rightly) it’s going to pull this off.

So why have I changed my mind, even though I was right? There’s a very simple test, and it’s whether or not something is annoying. Yes, not having a 3.5 is going to annoy people, but because of how small, simple, and frankly inexpensive this is, the annoyance is going to go way, way down. The fact that these cost $9US / $15NZ is just staggering to me. This has to be at no better than break-even, and maybe at a loss per unit.

So the little guy does, in fact, have a working Cirrus Logic DAC chip inside the Lightning side of the adapter. Really. The whole DAC is in there. And generally, when stuff is miniaturised in the audio world, you are going to pay for quality. The smaller something is, generally, the more you pay to make it sound as good as something big. It turns out that the DAC on this thing is good. REALLY good for the size. Technically, and I do mean *technically*, the audio isn’t as good as the plug. The limitation is essentially it came down to actual CD quality as its top quality level. For the audio nerds, it’s a 16-bit DAC. Most importantly, it’s pretty much noiseless. It’s not adding a bunch of hiss, it’s not making the audio sound “muddy” or “narrow” or whatever adjectives people use. It’s good. In fact, it’s so good, most people will think that the dongle isn’t doing anything but passing through that magic audio from one shape and size plug to another. It’s not, of course. But it seems that untouched.

And to me, this is what have Apple the #courage (gag me) to do it. Most people won’t care or notice much. I ran out and bought one for my 6S+, and I thought for sure it would be an easy comparison. If I put good cans on, and plug them in, I’ll be able to tell which connector is which. NOPE. Can’t tell. Now, it’s not a super-duper audio nerd listening environment, and I don’t think anyone rational would claim that. But frankly, with some regular pop music on, it’s indistinguishable audio. Really. I’m not sure I’d beat an A/B test even on material I know well.

Frankly, it’s a damned miracle.

So, the thing is, all the rest of what I wrote stands. I think the lack of a headphone jack might still put some people off, but it shouldn’t now that this dongle exists. Apple are still trying to make Beats work and make money. Schiller using the word “courage” was shallow…at best. It wasn’t about water resistance. It wasn’t about the stereo speakers. It’s still a calculated gamble to get customers locked in to Lightning, and not USB-C or any other wired standard.

All that withstanding, I just want to applaud the Hardware Development team for The Dongle. I know someone walked into their building and said, “We’re going to take the 3.5mm jack away. It is now your job to make that not be a crappy experience. You have 12 months, and you can only have a $6/unit cost. May the odds be ever in your favour.”

And they did it. Bravo.

Hell. Ya.

Hell. Ya.

MatThe iPhone Dongle: Part 2